Students play with water mechanisms at the Children's Museum in Portland

OT students learn value of play at Children's Museum in Portland

A group of students in UNE’s Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (M.S.O.T.) program visited the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine on Tuesday, April 24, as part of their Level I fieldwork experience.

Students gather in the makerspace area of the Children's Museum

The aim was simple enough, according to Elizabeth Crampsey, Ed.D, M.S., OTR/L, associate clinical professor of occupational therapy at UNE: to learn about how the museum engages children, but the students’ experience was far more engaging and involved playing with purpose.

Groups gathered for tours of the three-level facility at Thompson’s Point in Portland. Students and faculty participated in a tour and then completed an application assignment related to specific exhibits within the museum.

In the “Neighborhood” section, students pretended to be pilots, firefighters, and lobstermen in a room modeled after the city just outside the window. In the “Waterplay” area, they played with water as it twisted through mechanisms and spurting fountains. They then weaved their way through a makerspace” to “Illuminations,” a darkened room illuminated only by interactive light-up activities and a live-action shot of the Portland skyline from one of the country’s few publicly viewable cameras obscura.

Groups explored the “Blackbird” exhibit, becoming part of an interactive story. Others in the aquarium were offered turns at the “touch tank,” featuring several species of anemones and starfish all local to Maine waters. One group also completed further exploration of Maddy’s Theater, a fully accessible stage, theater, sound, and lighting booth equipped with a sensory friendly area.

Students play with water mechanisms at the Children's Museum in Portland
Two female students pose through the touch tank at the museum aquarium
Students play with a sound mixer
Two female students pose inside a tent
Students play with a giant Lite Brite at the museum

“It was incredible to experience the student excitement and engagement, as well as evolution of the Children’s Museum, with new and improved accessibility, and more culturally ground and reflective of the Portland area,” said Jan Froehlich, M.S., OTR/L, associate professor of occupational therapy and first-time visitor to the new setting (the museum relocated to Thompson’s Point from downtown in 2021). “The students turned into big kids while thinking about their future clients and were intellectually stimulated.”

The Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine supports children of all ages and abilities to engage in the most important of childhood occupations — play.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for the M.S.O.T. students to step into the shoes of children for an hour and consider the endless sensory, motor, cognitive, and developmental possibilities at the Children's Museum through the exploration and play,” Crampsey reflected.

Students visit the touch tank at the aquarium
Students play a sensory game
Students pose with kids' climbing equipment
A student slides down the pole of an imitation firetruck
Students pose in front of water mechanisms

“Play is how children learn and discover themselves and the world around them,” remarked Kris Winston, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA, director of UNE’s Occupational Therapy program. “The visit to the Children’s Museum offered UNE M.S.O.T. students the opportunity to explore play in many ways and in different contexts. We are very fortunate to have such an amazing space in our community with whom we can collaborate.”

Jessica Walton, M.S., OTR/L, BCG noted she “thoroughly enjoyed watching our students engage in the occupation of play in an immersive and creative environment.”

“This experience was an ideal way to be able to expose students to such a valuable resource for children within our community,” she added.